Oral history interview with Hameeda Hossain

Hossain, Hameeda


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So the atmosphere of course changed a lot and my grandmother - whose memoirs have been written down now - she was quite an active person, so she immediately took us all into this empty house and she said we have to help these people. So she started like a little hospital and so, you know, I came across a situation through that. And then when I was in school -- I think I was in first year of college -- after Metric I sat and, my principal called me and said sit for an essay competition, so I sat and the subject was "The world we want".
And two or three months later I heard that I had won the essay competition. The prize of that was that I was sent to the States for three months.
Oh wow!
And there were another two students were sent. There was a young man from Lahore and I, and the idea was that we stay with American families, see their schools and so on.
Which school you went to? The school you went to in Sindh?
In Sindh, St. Mary's Convent. In Karachi it was St. Joseph's Convent and then in Hyderabad it was St. Mary's Convent. And so I went to the States for three months-- we stayed with different families in New York, they took us to Washington, we went up to the Congress house and met many Congress people.
I suppose this was sponsored by the New York Herald Tribune. And this was very interesting because there were two students from different countries of Asia.
Great exposure...
Yeah, and in fact my friendship with some of these people have continued even today.
You were only few -- I mean...
I was only 15 then.
Only 15, yeah.
It was very interesting, fascinating.
You were born in Hyderabad?
Hyderabad, Sindh.
In the year?
In 1936. And I have five other brothers and sisters - two sisters and three brothers. And I am the youngest in the family so… And so after that exposure I became interested in studying outside, because actually I was studying in college in Hyderabad and I didn't like it at all.
And at that point my mother was insisting that I must study medicine and I didn't want to study medicine. And the college didn't really offer very much-- you know a very conventional sort of curriculum. So when I came home I applied to an American college, to Wellesley College, and a couple of other colleges. But I got in at Wellesley and they gave me a scholarship, so I was very thrilled with that.
And my mother was not so thrilled because she felt that going abroad is not the right thing for a young women. But anyway not withstanding her but I got a lot of support from my father. He was very keen on education; that was one thing he was very keen on. He said, "I can't leave you much wealth but can give you education, so that you can support yourself." And so -- when was it, in 1954 or '55 I went to Wellesley and I was there for three years because they gave me credits for my first year here.
What did you study there?
Literature -- literature, and history. My major was literature but I took a lot of history courses. So I was there for three years and I must say it was a bit of culture shock initially. I mean academically, because here you know you are supposed to give exams and you study two weeks for exam and don't bother anything. But as soon as I went there, they gave you these long reading lists and I put them away in my drawers.
Then suddenly I was hit with the idea that I had to write papers, and study for those quizzes, and so on. So, I knew the first semester was quite a shock and also when you go to a class here you listen to the teacher and take notes and there the teacher was not saying anything just introducing the subject and you were expected -- everybody was talking and I couldn't understand why so many girls had to talk. So it took me a bit of time to get used to that and I was there for three years. And, you know, unlike now when students come back home I didn't have the money to do that.
So I had to work in the summer time and otherwise in the evenings I used to work too because the scholarship covered just my fees and everything else, and my father could not afford to send me any money. So after that, over there, I worked in the summers. One summer I got a job in the UN as an intern, so that was interesting too. And then on my way back home I stayed in England for two-three months, I got a job there.
They were more like, you know, working for women's votes and things like that -- empowering sort of suffragettes. And then when I came home I worked at different kinds of jobs but my main work was in publishing and I worked with the Oxford University Press.
In U.K.?
In Karachi, no, then I came back.
I worked for three months in England for a women's group organization then I came -- then I got homesick and was feeling cold and unpleasant in England. I didn't like England at all, so then I came back to Karachi.
You like New England or in the university?
Yeah, well I like college, yeah I like college, I like the -
What was it like in the '50s in the USA?
Well, it was single sex college in those days.
Colonial things were taking place and what was the feel as an Asian liberated, so-called liberation $[unsure]? Did you feel the heat back in home? I mean the post-colonial euphoria and all those things -
Well in those days, I mean, Wellesley was single sex college so…
And the American girls, you know, were very keen on going out on dates and all, that was very important and you felt left out if you didn't have a date. Now I think these things don't matter, because everybody mixes up more freely. I think it was more, more racist than it is now. I mean Wellesley particularly there were very few Afro-Americans. I mean there was only one native Indian, Native American, as far as I remember, but Wellesley encouraged foreign students. I mean they encourage a lot of diversity and so they -
You were only the Pakistani?
Yeah, I was the first one-- I think there have been others since. Among the Indians of course, Vijay Lakshmi Pandit's daughters had gone there early on. And Sonia Sen's wife & her sisters had gone there but much earlier, of course, on in the 40's I think.
Did you meet any Indians there?
Yeah, I made good friends.
You had friends?
Yeah, oh yes I do, she died recently, Pushpa Nanda. She settled down in America, she married an American and settled there. She had studied Political Science, she was a very bright person and she was working there after she left college.
And after that there were two or three other Indians but there was no other Pakistani but there was a Sri Lankan, I remember. So it was very waspish, I would say. This is sort of Anglo-Saxon… several of my friends were, of course, Jewish. But there were not too many blacks that I could see. There was a tension because, for instance a friend of mine had gone out with a black student from Harvard and everybody was looking at her as if, you know, she was doing something wrong. I don't think this would happen so much now.
It has changed a lot, yeah… And of course the other thing is that then and I think even now the Americans are terribly ignorant about the world outside. It doesn't simply understand if it doesn't touch them but they also don't seem to have that much of interest or didn't have that much interest and, I mean, the ignorance was to the extent that they would say, you know, ask me questions like, "Oh do you people live up in trees?". So, you know, really, really childish, which was very irritating I must say.
But, you know, after I got used to the methods over there I think enjoyed the studies very much. I got to know two or three of my teachers very well. Particularly there was a history teacher-- I was doing far Eastern History, Japan and China... and I became quite friendly with them which is possible in the States I think.
Can you remember his name?
Yeah, it was Edward Gulick. I think he is long gone now.
So then you went, you stayed in London for a few months you said?
Yeah, I had gone four or five months, yeah, because before I left the States, I got this job. It was for a fixed period and then I didn't really feel like staying on and on so you know I had been away from home for almost three and a half, four years or so.
So you got back to, uh -
Sindh, yeah. And you started working with the Oxford University Press?
No, I didn't start working with them right away. I'm trying to remember what I did but I think different -- oh yeah, I was working with Pakistan Institute of International Affairs.
Institute of International Affairs?
Yeah, it's a - and I was doing editing work with them and after that I forget where I was working but then later on I went to the Oxford University Press. In between I was doing a lot of freelance writing there was a magazine which was started - political weekly - which was started by a friend of ours, Iqbal Burney, This was under Ayub's time. He was quite a dissenter, a strong dissenter and so I used to write for the magazine off and on.
Which magazine?
It was called Outlook.
Outlook. Based in Karachi?
It was based in Karachi, then it was a banned in between and then he was again allowed to start.
In the '60s. So you returned to Pakistan in which year?
I must have returned in '58 I think.
In '58.
That was just the year of Ayub Khan's coup.
And until then you didn't come to Bangladesh, I mean East Pakistan?
No, no not even aware of it.
[Laughs] Ok, when you were becoming aware of this distance of this East Pakistan?
No, actually two of my sisters were here.
Ok, already there?
One of them was married to a Bengali and he used to be in the Navy, he left the Navy and joined the Mashel $[unclear, 0:51] and so they were living in Dhaka. But, I mean, this was because… she got married before I left but I came back four years later and discovered that she had two children, she moved here and so on. Or maybe she moved later. And my older sister was married to a civil servant and he was posted here.
Bengali? He was also?
No, he was not. He was from UP, but he was posted here in some capacity. So I -- it was then, I think; when was it '62, '63 something like that, when I visited them. I just went for a holiday.
Haan, and another friend of mine got married; oh yeah, Salma Suhana married Rahman Suhana, and so I knew people who coming here.
So then when did you start staying for longer time in Dhaka?
Oh I didn't. Well, that time I came I was here, I think, for a month or so, I just came on a holiday.
And that was an interesting period-- it was early 60's, must have been 62. So I met all these because my sister was very friendly with Rahman Kamal, Dr. Sarwar Murshid, Professor Azad -- people like that -- so I met them very all. It was vibrant-- the group was vibrant, and I think the atmosphere was also very vibrant. We keep talking back about the 60's, in Dhaka particularly, I think because it was very lively time, intellectually lively and, you know, culturally...
Politically as well.
Politically as well but culturally too, there was much, I mean, much more open society too. You know people weren't divided and fighting that they do now.
So, you started liking the atmosphere?
I did actually because actually Karachi was very commercial and it was very, very big and one didn't have that sense of being part of something there; at least I didn't have that sense.
I used to work and come back, I had some friends but socially also, you know, there were people who came from very rich families, people who were making lot of money and I don't think I fitted in there very much. So, it was different in Karachi, one didn't relate so much to things there. And here you know people were involved in doing things so I got very involved with Dr. Sarwar Murshid and his wife. They used to bring out this journal called New Values and that was in English so you know -
Khan Sarwar Murshid?
Hmm, yeah.
Yeah, now they are both Ambassador in...
In Poland?
Gyan Murshid's husband.
Yeah who was a Member of Parliament.
So then they asked me to help them edit the magazine so even during that month I was quite active and involved with people. So I liked it here because of, I think, the sense of involvement that people had, I think I missed that in Karachi.
And you met Kamal Hossain about that time?
I met him around that time.
And you married?
Later, two - three years, in '64.
You were talking about this magazine that Khan Sarwar Murshid was editing and you also started editing Forum.
Oh that was much later.
Oh that was much later.
Ok, so what happened in between?
Well, in between I think I went back to my job in Karachi and then um...
How was your experience with UPL Dhaka? you know, you, worked for UPL Karachi -
I did.
Ohh not UPL, OUP. Oxford University Press.
…I think I also worked for UPL for a time. I don't remember…
Did you see a lot of interesting books coming in for publications?
Well when I was working for the OUP those days they were concentrating, this was just before '71 and after '71 I think I joined OUP in Dhaka about '67, I think, I am not very sure about dates.
And then I gave up in '71 and then again after '71, I joined them. So at that time, it was mainly their business was text books. Now actually Moinuddin $[exact name spelling unknown] is very active, he is bringing out a lot of titles. And similarly in Karachi this time I found that, I had been there two-three weeks ago, the OUP has published a lot of books, interesting books, which one would want. Earlier on their general publications were very limited, maybe they didn't have...
Now they have diversified a lot.
They didn't have that kind of money, whatever the reason, but they would concentrate much more on course books and a few other books but not that much. I think maybe people are also giving their manuscripts to these people now, whereas previously they were looking for publishers abroad, you know. But we all find that when you publish books abroad then you can't sell them in Bangladesh, they become so expensive. So, I was working with the OUP before I came here in Karachi and I came here in '65, early '65.
Just during the Indo-Pak war.
I came in January and I think the war was in July or August some time. And so in the first few months I wasn't doing very much, I was just trying to find out what's what. So after the war we, I think we had gone out, we were out of the country actually when the war took place-- we had left just before, Kamal and I. So we came back and after that I started looking around for work.
So obviously since I had already been working with the OUP, I started, I joined them. And at that point, you know, [phone rings] I am sorry. We used to meet together with the, you know, the same group of people. There was Badruddin Umar, Rehman Sobhan, there was Kamal, there was Maidul Hassan who was a journalist with Itefaq-- you might want to interview him.
Yeah, he has this Mooldh Haran.
And then there was a journalist who then died in this air crash, Pakistan Airlines air crash, it crashed in Egypt somewhere, he was on a flight to Eygpt. So you know we were discussing the possibility of bringing out a political weekly. I mean I was not very involved politically, I was just...
Did you have the same feeling as about the Ayub regime?
Yeah, that of course, but you know like these people Rahman and Kamal were very more involved: Kamal was doing those cases and Rahman was writing a lot and so on. And so we'd applied for the registration of this weekly in, I think it was soon after I came here, soon after '65. But we finally got the permission in '67, two years later. And so basically they asked me to be the editor because I had done this kind of work before but I think the political concept was much more with Rahman and Kamal and these other people. And so Badruddin Umar was with us in the beginning but he had a lot of differences so he left.
He still has, he still has.
Well now even more marked! But so he drifted away, he didn't want to have anything to do with it. Mouidul Hassan continued to write a column but he was very slow in giving it in so we had to keep pushing him. And Rahman used to write too much and I used to keep slashing it down [laughs].
[Laughs] So, check and balance.
Yeah, that's right.
Could you please give a little more light on the differences that Dr. Badruddin Umar had with the policies of the magazine? What kind of-?
Oh, I think the difference was in the first issue of a particular article that he wrote, I forget now what it was. But I think the basic difference was that he was not didn't approve what the Awami League was and what it did, what it said-- so that was the main difference. And at that point Rahman was certainly supporting the Awami League, Kamal was very actively involved in the Awami League.
But Badruddin Umar had equal tensions, I mean equal distance or equal kind of non-willingness to the Ayub regime.
So I am a bit curious about the level of internal dissonance among your cohorts although all progressive, although all against Ayub regime, but how do you see the difference between Rehman Sobhan, Kamal Hussain and Badruddin Umar.
Well Badruddin Umar was a Marxist, he said, so he took a very different line, Kamal was much more -
He was for revolution or something?
He was for revolution or something, in terms of independence of Bangladesh?
No this was before the independence of Bangladesh; say if we look back at '67… No I think his position, but maybe I think he could clarify more, I think his position was you know this kind of nationalism that Awami League talks about would be another bourgeois replacement from one bourgeois regime to another bourgeois regime.
And he talked about gangs, gangsterism, gangsterous, what is it, culture within the Awami League and things of that kind. And so he didn't, you know I suppose he also from his father's tradition of -
Abul Hashim's?
Having been more on the left of the Awami League, Badruddin was even more so I think.
So while he was very friendly with Rehman and Kamal probably continues though we don't see him much these days. $[unclear - 5:47] We used to visit him in Raj Sahi $[name unclear - 5:49] and he would come here so on but I think there was a marked difference between the two. And I think Rahman would also say in theory he might have been a Marxist but he had a much more liberal approach. Umar is much more fixed in his ideas.
More flexible maybe.
Yeah, I think so anyway, I think that was probably the main difference, political difference.
Then you carried on with the publication and all?
We carried on with the publication.
You said-
Quite a difficult job to get…
yeah, so, you know, getting people to write, but luckily in those days Rehman of course wrote a lot not only in his own name but different names. And then there were Anisur Rahman and Nur Islam, you know, the economists.
What was his nickname for that I mean, pseudo name?
One other name was Rashid Akhtar-- I think these two names and sometimes he used to write anonymously.
And then also I think we didn't have any funds for the weekly; I don't know how he got the courage to publish it. What we decided to do was to have life membership. So in fact, at the launch of the first issue, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the first signed-- we gave him a receipt and the life membership was only about a 1000 Takas I think. And then Tajuddin Bhai was the second person; so they were all there for the launch so we took their money. And we got very few ads because we were writing against the people from whom we expected ads, so you know… And there were not that many corporate houses anyway in Bangladesh.
Like today.
And since much of Rahman's writing certainly was West versus East so the West Pakistanis' weren't very keen on… But we used to get a column from Mazhar Ali Khan, a weekly column which was very nice.
Mazhar Ali Khan?
He used to be the editor of Pakistan Times and he is-
He was based in the other side?
He was based in West Pakistan?
He was in Lahore. You know his wife was a Trade Unionist, and he was with the Moscow Marxist.
He was a Bengali?
Tariq Ali's father actually, he is quite a famous journalist in his won right.
Oh yeah, yeah, I know.
Oh yeah, yeah, I know.
So he used to write a weekly column for us. Then there was M.V. Naqvi, another journalist from Karachi who used to write for us. And within Bangladesh we got quite a few people to write but it was difficult going, I think financially difficult. In fact if people -- friends like Monu Kabir for instance had not helped us because he gave us use of his -- we used to print it from his press, "Sangbad Press."
And there we had Shahidullah Kaiser, people like that who were very supportive. In fact, you know, in those days we had to set it with those metal fonts and tie it up and carry it in rickshaws to -- wherever the office was. I remember once it broke and we were carrying it and then we had to go and reset the whole thing so it came out quite mixed. And I think although the printing number was fairly small-- I don't think we ever made more than two or three thousand.
I think it had an influence beyond its printing capacity and because, you know, there were couple of times when intelligence, information -- either it was the the information intelligence or military intelligence, I forgot -- once they called us in and there was a group captain or some Gilani who was posted here as a Head of the Defense Forces Intelligence. And he called me and then the reason he called me in was because Mazhar Ali Khan from Lahore had written an article.
You know in those days the Shah of Iran, Reza Pehlavi, was celebrating 100 years of their dynasty or something like that, knowing full well that they had taken power only 10-20 years ago. So he had written a very amusing piece about that so this man called us and said, you know, this is our friendly country and we don't like people writing and so on. Anyways he was quite sort of mild and friendly in his criticism and left it at that. Then we were called once again for some other reason I forget what.
But there was no concern in the Ayub regime about the political content of -- ?
There was, another time they called us in, it was to do with something that we had written about the government, I think about Ayub Khan or something like that, I forget what that was. And I think that time Rahman had gone to meet the person which is why I don't remember. Well, there was also, for instance, there was an article we had written about Gandhara, you know "Gandhara" was Habibullah's car manufacturer or something… And I am not sure what that was then, why we had written it.
I am sure if you look up the old - but immediately there was a response from the Gandhara representative who at that time was Mr. Habibullah Khan - who is now retired and Salma Khan, who's his wife, who was much more prominent now. So that was the kind of, you know... No I think it was, in any case I think, you know, there was censorship even then but either as a forum -- it was an English weekly and so people felt that was not probably read that much, maybe, that there wasn't that much action.
But I think, you know, it was less I mean the censorship was less than it is now in a way. You know, like one hears about telephone calls being made saying, you know, and this leads to self censorship. I don't think we ever felt that we had to censor ourself because we didn't in fact except for these two-
How long did you continue?
Well, it was closed down in '71. I think it started in '67 or '68 something like that, I forget now.
And '71 they -
March was the last issue.
It became monthly later or - ?
No, it was always a monthly. No the March 25th or 26th was the last issue. It was all ready to go to the press, then of course the Army action started so we couldn't bring that number out.
So, it was nothing like ban, government banned it or - ?
It just had to discontinue?
No, we all dispersed in different directions.
So this momentous came, you know, this 25th and 26th and that was the key moments in history and how, where were you during this crackdown. In Dhaka?
I was in Dhaka, we were living just one street away in Circuit House Road-- we lived in a rented house and our landlord lived upstairs, we lived downstairs. And in those days I used to be very busy with Forum and by then we had shifted the office. There was a garage in our compound so we shifted the office there so since I had 2 little children it made it much easier for me to just hop across -- because before that our office was in not "chiketola", what is that place known as? "Hadcora". And you know going there and coming back took up a long time so this was much easier.
And Kamal used to be busy with his party things so actually we didn't get much time to talk to each other then because he'd rush off and then I rush off so. And I mean there was a lot of tension in those days and I used to go a lot to the public meetings and, you know, also the other aspect of this was that there was this violence and shooting going on, and you found people in the hospital and everybody was indulging in a lot of rhetoric: "Sadhinota" and "Joi Bangal" and the other. There were people lying in the hospital and you know, so somebody had to cope with that.
So, I remember I wrote about that in Forum and also two or three of us friends went there to see what happened what we could do but because, you know, political parties tend to forget human beings and they tend to talk in language of nations [laughs].
[Laughs] This nationalism at that point, because you were not a Bengali here and then Bengali Nationalism had it's own flavor and from that perspective how did you see this political content of nationalism and the project of nationalism?
Yeah, well -- now I ask myself why? Why I was -- wandering around, looking at all this, why I felt I was supporting this, because how did it affect me? I am not sure but I suppose, you know, supposing if I, its also circumstantial I think. For instance I was thinking that if I was living or meeting different group of people; say I was meeting military people or civil servants or business people then my life would have been different, I think. You know, I wouldn't touched by this, but because I was constantly and that's through Kamal, Rahman and all these people-- we were meeting like journalists, teachers.
I spent a lot of time at the University because I was very friendly with Professor Azad so I would go down there and meet with him ,so you know in that sense it was circumstantial because you engage with different kind of people -- maybe you select the people I don't know. So I knew a lot of people in the University because of Professor Azad and because I'd sit there and listened to them chat; just about everyday I would go and meet him there.
And also in his house, came across so many different people, because I think even with Kamal and Rahman there was one kind of people with them and when I went to sir's house it was a different group again but all talking the same language of you know nationalism verses you know whatever was going on in those days… and the talk of independence and so on and so forth and anti-military. So um -- I mean restricted, my movements were restricted; I was much more active in Dhaka itself and just listening to what people were saying in these meetings.
How was your sense of Dr. Afsar Raza? He was very enigmatic; he belonged to every segment of political Left or Nationalist, liberal and radicals. So how was your experience with him?
Well I think he was an essential liberal, for one thing. I think, you know yeah well -
He was in favor of Pakistan at some point?
Yeah, but so was everybody. But much yeah much more so. No, he was a great admirer of Mr. Jinnah's. And even right up to the end, I mean, he said that and he had made no bones about that. And, but also you know also he had done his thesis in SOAS, London University, and his main subject was about the military and democracy and then of course he came away without completing it because he couldn't find the foot notes or something like that.
So, that was very interesting thesis so in that sense he was very great admirer of Jinnah's, but very anti-military and in terms of Bengali nationalism I think he was very-- in terms of sort of linguistics, language struggle and so on, he was probably not involved himself but certainly… In fact he would tell me, he would tell Kamal and all these people, and he started telling me you can't do any work unless you know Bangla so don't even try to start doing anything. So, I think he was very... enigmatic is a good word, but quite mixed up, but also I think his developments also reflected the times.
Of ambiguities?
Ambiguities yes [laughs]. And, you know amongst his friends, for instance, there were lot of Muslim Leaguers. Like there was a Mr. Matin, you know Roseboo's $[name unclear - 2:16] father who lived in Mymensingh. He was a very good friend of his in fact but he was a very staunch Muslim Leaguer or he was quite friendly with Ataullah Rahman $[name unsure 2:35] I remember.
So he had a very different, I mean, I would say much more Catholic tastes, than other people -
More flexible?
Much more, yeah.
Then the war started what were your and Hussain's experience during that war, during the 9 months?
Well, Kamal, you must have heard from him, he ended up in jail, and I was living down here and that night, you see Kamal would not, for a couple of weeks before -- especially while the negotiations were going on -- he was not staying at home. He would go out and they had all been told, "Don't stay in your houses." I think the previous experience of this kind of movement had been that you pick up people, you put them in jail and then you start negotiating; maybe this is what they expected, but I don't know.
Did you hear back from Kamal Hussain about some of the issues that were discussed in the negotiations until the 25th?
Yeah, well I have seen his manuscript yeah, he has given it to the UPL now to be published. So, I wasn't seeing Kamal much because I was also busy with Forum. When he would come to the house, he would come very briefly and go off again.
Uh… But that evening on the 25th, actually you know lots of people had come to Bangladesh, to Dhaka, sorry, from West Pakistan during to help the negotiation. And amongst them was Mazhar Ali Khan, he had come. Rahman had invited him over for dinner and we said we would get all together and he invited us and of course I said, "Rahman, Kamal wouldn't be going," and he had also invited Monu Kabir-- you know Monu?
Ahmed al-Kabir - ?
Yeah, Sanghad. Ahmad al-Kabir, and Laila Kabir. So they had come to pick me up but while they came, in the mean time there was this Doctor, an Aga Khani doctor, whom we had known, he was - so they had come to pick me up and just little while earlier this doctor turned up saying, you know, "Please help me because they are demanding, these young men Awami League boys, were trying to take extort money from me and I don't have money or whatever they wanted and otherwise you know they are threatening me."
So just then Kamal had also come so he had rang up some people and said please tell your students not to do this, he is a friend of the party and so on. Just before Ceiling Harrison , this American journalist had come in. We knew him from before, we had met him in '69 when Yahya Khan had taken over and even before that. So he came to see what's going on and so on, then couple of other people had come. And during this period in March -- because you know Kamal, Tajuddin Bhai and Amir Islam were supposed to be giving the directives so people would then drop in and tell Kamal, "What are we to do we do next?" and so on.
So several other people had come and by then it was getting quite late. So anyway Laila came and said, "you know I think we should not go all the way to Gulshan" -- Rahman was living in Gulshan -- "because I have seen some barricades up the street and everything is very tense". So then they would say that they would go home, and we rang up Rahman to say -- it must have been 9 o'clock by then. We rang up Rahman saying that forget about us -- it is not the right night to go out anywhere.
We rang up Rahman saying that forget about us -- it is not the right night to go out anywhere. And so then I went off, I had a niece staying with me in those days because my sister had gone out of the country, and I had two daughters and the women who looked after them, she was staying in the house and so late. And then after Kamal left, he said -- Amirul Salam used to stay next to us, so they both left -
$[unclear - 1:59]
$[unclear - 1:59]
And so it must have been I forget now what time, 1 o'clock maybe? We heard this loud bang, like a shot, and before that I was getting a lot of telephone calls you know saying, "What should we do? Should we bring down the black flags? What should we do with the Joy Bangla flag? and so on". So I just said that you know "Ja bhalo mone koren seta koren," $[bengali speaker please check - 2:22] and I heard the voice at the other end saying "Tumi to bangali na mone hoye."$[bengali].
He must have recognized my accent so they must have wondered you know, am I giving them the right advice or not. So then there was a bang outside, so I hadn't slept all night in any case, because I could hear you know when the action started at 12, you could hear it: the tanks rolling, that rumbling sound and some shots in that because I mean Rajar Bagh is just here, that's where it started. So, and that I knew that something was going to happen, you know, you felt it in the air that sort of thing.
Its just that it was my first experience and I didn't know exactly what was going to happen. So then I was awake and I sort of immediately opened the door and I found all these people with their Sten guns and so on. So they marched in and asked everyone to come out, so including my 2 daughters, one was 2 year and the other was four years, and they made us stand in a line and said, "Where's your husband?" And so I said, "I don't know." So, "What sort of a husband is he, he doesn't tell you?" So, anyway this kind of conversation went on for a while.
They spoke in Urdu or - ?
No, they spoke in English. And then they asked my niece, "Do you know where he is?" So, she of course at that age she was, must have been a teenager so she said, "No even if I know, I won't tell you." So they slapped her, and then they took me all over the house and there was a store room. This friend of ours, Nurul Kadar Khan, you know he was-
Garment's pioneer, Nurul Kadar?
Haan, yes, Desh garments but before that he was, had been in Rajshahi... Just before, while he was posted in Rajshahi, a year or so before, he had gone to Cambridge and he had a lot of sculptures, you know, from that area. So he had kept those sculptures with me saying, "Please keep them." So I locked them up in a room because I didn't want them to be broken or anything. So there was a lock on this door and they said, "Open it!" Then I opened it. I heard one person telling the other person "Dekha humne bola tha na, sab kafir rehete hain."
So then anyway, they saw that. They took me around the garden, to show them, you know, there was a big garden with trees and this that and the other. And then one of them said, "You know, what your people are doing to us?" So obviously, they took me to be Bengali. And, so I said, "Where are you from?" He turned out, he was from Kashmir, you know, "the part that is not yet in Pakistan" or something like that. I mean he was very categorical. I think he was a Captain or a Major and was saying, "You people have destroyed Islam, you will destroy the country." So anyway, luckily they left.
They didn't hurt anyone?
They didn't hurt anyone.
Well, they did slapped my niece and I think the woman who looked after my daughters, they hit her.
And I didn't know -- because the next day was curfew -- so I didn't really get out anywhere. And people around in the neighborhood must have seen or heard what had happened, because I was wondering what to do because, particularly with the little children, my niece and so on, I was a bit nervous. But then there was some Americans living behind us and there was a low wall, so I jumped over the next day and I said, "Look, can you help us out? Because the Army has been to our house and I didn't know what they will do tonight.
And they said, and there was a dog barking inside and they wouldn't open the door or quieten the dog. And they said, "The Army is there to protect you; no, we can't help you." So, I came away and then somebody else must have seen what is happening or heard what had happened because someone was able to send a message, I don't know from where. There must have been by some baste nearby. The person who came said, "Aapni Jodi chan amader ekhane chole ashun." $[bengali - 1012, 1:42]
I didn't want to cross the main road and so on, so I spent the night there and luckily, nothing happened the next day. And the day after that, when curfew broke, my sister-in-law, who used to live in the front house here, she came over and she drove us all to a cousin's house in Gulshan. And she said, "You can stay there for a couple of nights and see what happens." And at that point, no one knew where Kamal was.
And when I went there, I saw Rehman Sobhan had also come there. Because even this was a cousin who was friendly with both of us. But after we sat upstairs in the bedroom, and then the cousin was downstairs, he was getting some -- the cousin used to be the secretary of the Pakistan Jute Mills Association. So you know, all these Adamji's, Bawani's and people like that, but obviously he was working with them. So they were dropping in, and probably asking him for advice or whatever.
So he got a bit panicky and said that maybe you shouldn't be here. So Rahman left -- I don't know where he went -- and I was taken to another house in Gulshan. This was a relative's house which was empty and somebody had the keys, so I went there. And I spent a couple of days, two-three days there, and then, didn't really know what to do because one couldn't keep on staying in Dhaka. It was a bit -- because then we also heard that the day after that, they had also gone to Salma's, Rahman Saab's house, looking for him and Salma had been alone, no, Salma luckily wasn't been in the house. She was in the neighbor's house, so she didn't confront them.
So anyway, after a few days-
So they were looking for all those participants in the discussions, mainly? [Cell phone disturbance.]
Well yes, in terms of, Kamal was in the negotiations team. Rahman was not in the negotiating team, but he had been writing about all this, so I think they must have had a list of names.
So after a few days, my sister-in-law suggested that maybe, I should go away to Karachi, because my parents were there, and there was a friend of mine, one of these Asfahani's $[unclear] who helped me get a ticket. In those days it was also very difficult to get tickets, you had to give names and origins, all that kind of thing. There were some restricted travels and a lot of people were leaving in those days, because the airport was full of Aga Khanis and so on and so forth.
So anyways, this friend of mine, she was married to an Asfahani, and she was still here. So she said she would get tickets, she would line up and get it. So she got those tickets, and somehow got to the airport, just rushed into the plane. So nobody in Karachi knew I was coming and I arrived late and so I knew where they lived, so I took a taxi there. Then I think it was around the third or fourth of April that I was in the room with the television on. Suddenly I heard this announcement about Kamal's arrest, so that's how I knew.
Maybe in April.
April, it was third or fourth of April. So that's how I knew that he had been taken in. So then I realized that it was probably going to be a long time before -- so then I went back because I had no money and my father was not very well off either, he was retired. So then I went back to OUP.
And so we were there for nine months and during that period, soon after I arrived there in fact, not soon after, a few weeks after I arrived there. I mean the Intelligence must have been good, because they sent two people saying, "Where's your passport?" So you know they served an order that I can't go out of Karachi without informing them. So anyway, my passport had expired...
So they were following you?
Yes, its very strange that they should have known. But anyway -- my passport had expired so I wasn't bothered. Because I was counting on you know being able to somehow get out, but then you know with no passport, that was not possible.
And they collected you probably at the time of Kamal Hussain's and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's release, by January or late December.
But in between, I mean like these people, I had 2 visits from some Intelligence, I think. One of them in fact, came saying that he is going to be Kamal's lawyer. He said, "You know, the case is coming up," and I said, "No, I don't know." Because soon after I got there, I consulted a lawyer and I said, "How do I get to know where he is? Or see him?" I was still treating this as a normal law and order situation. So I wrote a letter and I said, "Who do I address it to?" And no one seemed to know who to address it to, but they said "Chief Marshall's administrators." No replies came of course, I wrote several letters, no replies.
But then somebody dropped in, saying you know, "Your husband has asked me to defend him, his trial is coming up soon," and this was about May or June I think, "but we need to know some information." So you know he asked me, "Do you know where this Awami League was drafting this constitution and whether your husband was involved in it? And you know where it was, where I could find the draft?" So I quickly said, "Look I wouldn't know, but in any case you burnt down the office so you probably burnt it down as well."
So later I asked Kamal, who this person was and he had no idea.
[Laughs]. So they are posing themselves as-
And- thank you.
Want some sugar?
No thank you. Then I inquired for permission to see Kamal, again no response. Then we went to see, oh yes. My parents-in-law and my sister-in-law, they decided to come to Karachi, because they said, "We'll try and see whether we can seek him out". So they arrived in Karachi, I think around July maybe, and my sister-in-law and I went to meet Mr. Arohi $[unclear, 3:09] that if such a case comes up, you know, would you be able to defend him? So he said, "I don't know, because this is Martial Law and so on. If it's the other kind of court, you know, and they permit lawyers, we would do so."
But interestingly around that time in July, he said that he heard from the Government, that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman wanted him to do his case. Because I think Sheikh's case came up sometime in September or October. And then my parents-in-law applied for permission to see Kamal and they got permission. And I think it was August probably. So we went to him along with them, because Kamal was in Haripur Jail, which is in Hazara, North West border. And so we stayed in Rawalpindi, or Islama-, Rawalpindi I think.
And we drove up to the jail, with my daughters. My father-in-law fell sick so he couldn't go, he got a heart condition. My mother-in-law went with us. So we went and then we saw his solitary cell. Yeah I had sent him some books and things, which he said he never received. And so we were able to say a little, but you know, there was always a person following us around. We tried to -- I mean Kamal said, "I planted these trees and I have done this" so he would take us around.
It was a large enclosure, quite large in fact, and he was in one group and he was pretending that he was showing us around. So I would take the two girls and walk, but there was always somebody behind us. But anyway, we spoke in some sort of code language, using names that other people wouldn't understand. For instance, I used Rahman's son's name rather than his name.
And just before that, there was a news item in the paper, saying that Kissinger had met Kamal. So we were, I mean, I was very surprised - what's going on! And then I heard from BBC or whatever other transmissions were made from here, that Kissinger was to meet Sheikh Mujibur and Kamal and all.
They did actually meet?
No, no. This was, you know, Kissinger was trying to cover up his trip to China, remember? So this was meant to be -- he came to Islamabad and caught a flight from there and to cover it up, it was said that he actually met these people. So that was an interesting insight. In fact, what is that man's name who interviewed Kissinger and asked him about, why the American Government supported Pakistan in 1971. And so Kissinger was supposed to have said, you know, it's because they were negotiating with the Chinese for us and he said, "Oh wasn't that a heavy price to pay the postman!"
[Laughs]. So then you were in same flight back to-?
Actually what happened was, a few days before -- I mean the war had ended on the 16th. And a few days, some days after that, after Bhutto took over, there was this American journalist, UPI, I think, whom we had known here; he used to come here often in those two years.
And he came to Karachi and he spoke to me over the phone, and he said he's going to meet Mr. Bhutto and so on. And so, no, he told me that he had met Mr. Bhutto. And so I said, "Well, what's going on?" Because you know 16th of December, nothing much, and I had again applied for permission and so on. You know, in fact I had applied again for permission in November and actually got permission to go there on the third of December. But that's when the war broke out in Pakistan so I couldn't move-- there was nothing was moving in those days.
So after the 16th I again applied for permission and I was waiting, you know, and I was telling him over the phone, you know, "They don't even let me see him." So he said that he had interviewed Bhutto at some public meeting or the other and so he asked him, "What's going to happen to Kamal Hossain?" and… so he said, he didn't say anything - "We don't need him," or something like that. So then, around the -- near the 28th of december, or 25th or 26th, I finally got the permission to meet him.
So I went with the kids to Pindi, and I went to the office from where the permission had come through, and I said, "Look, how do I meet him?" So they said, "I am sorry, you can't meet him, but don't worry it will be all right." So that was a bit worrying-- that don't worry, it will be all right, but you can't meet him! And so I said, "What's the matter? Because you said you got the permission." He said, "Yes, you have permission to meet him but he is no longer in my custody," and that was the military custody you know.
So then I asked, "Who's custody? Can I go somewhere else?" "We will let you know, but don't worry." And I kept getting this response everywhere I went - "Don't worry, but we will let you know." And that was because that was the day he was transferred from his jail to the rest house, Shehadha Rest House $[unclear, 1014, 3:05], where Sheikh Mujibur was, so that's why they couldn't tell me. They just transferred his custody. I am sure they knew, but they weren't going to tell me.
So then after two or three days in Pindi, I came back. There was no point staying on. And I continued to work at OUP. And then, I think early January somebody came around, and said we need your photographs and things. Again, wouldn't say why, so we gave him the photographs. And then on the eighth of January, these two people, who had taken my passport in the beginning, came to see me and it was about eight or nine o' clock at night, and they said, "Come with us." So I said, "Where are you taking me?" So they said, "We can't tell you, but don't worry."
And I said, "Well, should I take the children?" And they said, "We don't know, maybe you should." But they won't say anything, so I was a bit worried but I asked my sister and brother, "What do you think?" and they said, "Well, you may as well go along. Maybe they are taking you to see him again, you got permission maybe." So anyway, I packed them up, we didn't have any woolen clothes, it was cold at night, so I put some blankets on them and took them as they were. And then they took us to the PIA Chief's house and so we sat there.
And then the PIA Chief came in and was quite polite, and I said, you know, "What's going on? What am I supposed to do?" and he said, "Don't worry, it will be all right," and you know this kind of talk, "but I can't tell you anymore." Then they took us to the Tarmac -- drove us straight into the tarmac -- and then there was this enormous 707 plane or whatever it is, and there was just those two children, me and then, this PIA chief. We got on this plane, they flew us to Pindi and then they got us down, and each time I would ask them, "Can you tell me? What's all this is about?"
They took us down to the lounge for half an hour and again brought us up in the plane. These three people coming up to the step ladder - there was Sheikh Mujib, Mr. Bhutto and Kamal. And Bhutto went back from there, and Sheikh Mujib and Kamal came up on the plane and that's how we were flown back. We spent a night in Claridge's in London and came back here the next day.
And then the flight from London to Dhaka via Delhi, you were also in the same flight?
Yes I was in the same flight but I didn't get down.
Ok, so then a new beginning after your return. It was completely new set up. How did you enjoy your time in this new independent country until 1975?
Well, I will tell you, when we came back we had no place to live and we were all actually living with a friend of ours, Zia ul Haq, he had a house in Dhak Mandi.
There was our family, there was Rahman's family wasn't here, there was another Nurul Islam, several people, I don't know how we divided ourselves but we were there. And then until Kamal was given this official house, and then we moved in there. And, first few days basically, it was a natural connecting with people again. For instance I heard that Anisuzzaman's wife was sick and in the hospital, so I went to see her.
And you know visiting people, friends had died, had been killed, you know like Panna Kesar and people like that you know. Professor Razaq was back in Dhaka, so that was my first call. And in the beginning -- see we had come back, of course, but I mean I didn't feel that I was different. But obviously, people saw me as someone different because they would look at me suspiciously. When I went to the hospital, "Aapnar desh kothai ache?" $[bengali, 1015, 2:02] you know or they'd say I looked different.
And so there was that suspicion obviously, "She is a Pakistani." So that made me fairly uneasy, I think, in the beginning until you get to know that people are going to suspect you. And in the beginning, its now like a whirlwind, you didn't have time to think or -- once I settled down, I went back to my job at OUP, but in the mean time in the '60s my sister Khurshid, her sister-in-law, we'd also started working with some crafts people, artisans because you know they weren't able to market their thing, we were helping them. So they all came back to us saying, "What can we do?" So that was also my other activity.
And the third thing--
That's when Karika $[unclear] started?
Karika $[unclear] was later. This we had started before '71 actually. It was just that, you know, the shops would be full of West Pakistani things, and in the streets we would come across people making beautiful things. So we travelled around a little, trying to arrange for them to sell their things.
That could have been pre-history of our own today.
Yes that's right. So I was also busy with that. And there were children to look after. And then I think Kamal had been elected from Mirpur or Tejghar, I forget. Anyway, women started coming to him saying "Ekhon ami ki korbo?" $[bengali], you know, widows, I mean, some of them might have been raped, they wouldn't talk about it. In fact I can give you the -- they printed my interview in this.
Yeah, I would like to have those...
They have my latest issue they got my interview in there. And so you know, just listening to their stories, one felt like, what do you do -- first of all, they had nothing. They had been thrown out of their homes, they were trying to find their houses again, because in the meantime, they had been thrown out of their houses, maybe they had been thrown out by the Biharis or whoever, but other people had walked in and because they had become single women, no one nobody would give them that kind of support.
So then this main thing was, that "How do I survive economically?". So mainly, what I was doing was putting them in touch with places like there was this Rehabilitation Home that the Government had set up, there was another one set up by Begam Sufia Kamal and so on. Then there was this village behind the Cantonment, Manikdi, that was also part of Kamal's constituency. So these people had come to, I mean they had basically come to Kamal, but Kamal was busy with his constituency and so on so I would go and all there houses had been demolished to the ground.
So I got in touch with an organization called "Concern " and got, because they were doing a lot of relief work, so got them involved and they gave the the women and men, tins and bricks and whatever else, to build their houses again. And so basically, I mean, my memories of those days is just rushing around and connecting people.
So as the country itself.
Yes, and then you know Amir Islam's wife Leela - Amir Saab's constituency was in Kushtia - and Leela had gone back there, along the border town, where a whole lot of women who had been widowed and raped and what not, you know, so they were setting around helplessly. So what we tried to do with them, was, you know, how can you earn your living what can you do - kanthas and so on, stitch those things. So we said, "Ok you make these things." We got some cloth for them and got them to make it and we would try and sell it for you in Dhaka. So that kind of work was being done.
In the next few years, you started you know working in Oxford at St. Antony's College.
Oh, that was much later.
Yeah, your thesis was on the weaving, "Weavers of Bengal." And then I, it's kind of interesting that you were still as an activist, you were dealing with clothes and, you know, and then you went on to do your Doctoral research on Weaving. How was it, I mean?
Well basically because I got very involved with the-
When did you go to Oxford?
No, that was by chance because we went there, after Bongobondhu's assassination, and then we were there. I didn't, I don't like sitting around doing nothing, I am not very good at house work or cooking.
I am not very interested, so what was I to do all day? So I was getting very fed up being there and wondering what I can do? And since I was working with weavers and all these other crafts people, I was interested in that direction then. And then Kamal said, "Why don't you?" So I spoke to my supervisor there, Tapan Raychaudhuri; he is somebody that you can interview.
Yeah, he has already been interviewed by one of my colleagues. He is also coming soon.
Oh great! Yes, he comes in winters.
So he was your supervisor?
Yeah, I spoke to him, you know, I am interested in this subject and I asked what can I do because I had been working with them on 20th century but what was the past like, and can I do anything in that area. So he was not very encouraging, he said, "I don't think that you will find very much, but go to the library and see." So in the office Library, not the Indian Library, The India Library in Oxford.
Bodleian Library? There is Bodleian.
I started looking at some secondary sources and you know, there was N. K. Sinha and various other people, who had written couple of chapters here and there mainly about, from the traders, from the companies...
Looking at the, not the perspective of the company, but looking at what the company did and so on.
And then so I got interested in the subject, then I started going to the India Office where the manuscripts were. And I was amazed at the kind of material that I found there and I was very lucky, because at the same time Dr. Anisuzzaman...
Was doing the cataloguing.
Was doing the cataloguing and the translation, so I had the translation with me.
And I used that quite a lot for my thesis. And so that's how my interest in that period, in this subject came about. I was not an academic to begin with, I became one later.
But you had your some, little bit of history, in Wellesley college, so it might have also… So you were there for -- how was your interaction with Tapan Raychaudhuri? I mean as a supervisor.
He was very good, yeah.
Did you have any conversation other than research?
Yeah, well I mean certainly, oh yes particularly, because since he was from Borishal, he left in '47. So he had a lot of memories and we meet him every time, we go, whenever he comes here, we meet him.
[unclear] is also from Borishal.
Well yes, but you know he has never lived there. Tapan actually lived there. And his wife is a fantastic cook. But yeah, we used to meet him even socially because actually Kamal also knew him earlier, socially, so we used to meet him - how many Bengalis are there together don't meet each other -- you live abroad practically all the Bengalis come together. He was there and there was another Professor Gopal.
I forget his first name.
Not Gopal Haldar maybe? Gopal Krishna? It's OK, we'll find it.
No, but you know this was not his field.
You had any second supervisor or any or got to meet other scholars?
Yeah I did. There was another Professor, I am trying to remember, I have his article with me still. He had come with this subject in China - "Textile Production In China". So, actually he had much more of theoretical background because Tapan's work was different and subsequently, he had done a different kind of work. And at that time, when we were in Oxford, it meant, you know, a double burden for me, because I was not used to doing housework or looking after children and it meant you know driving them to school, bringing them back, because Kamal had to be in the College, doing his own work.
And we take turns anyway, but then also cooking and so on and so forth. Then I had to come to London for my research, but luckily we used to live -- we found a house, which we stayed upstairs and Salma and Rehman stayed downstairs. So her children were very friendly with my children and so she helped look after them.
And were Rehman Sobhan and Salma Sobhan at Cambridge at that time?
No, no they were studying in Cambridge. Salma did her Law from Cambridge and Rahman was doing his Economics degree from Cambridge but this was post '75. They too arrived, they left. We left because, in August, Kamal was traveling, he was in Yugoslavia when this happened and they informed him, you know, "These assassinations have take taken place and what you want to do? You are welcome to stay here." But then he said, "No," he thought he will go to London because he will get more information there and on the way, he stopped in Germany because I think Sheikh Haseena and Rehana were in Germany with the ambassador, so he met them there and then he went to London.
And then, and we were here in fact, we were in that Government house opposite the Holy Family Hospital and-
Dr. Kamal Hossain was in Dhaka at that time? No, he was in Yugoslavia?
No, he was traveling. Official visit. I was there, in fact that morning I was supposed to go for my daughter's Parent Teacher meeting or something like that, and I got a call from Kamal's secretary Taufiq Ali, who's now retired from Foreign Service, and he said, "Don't go out of the house and just listen to the radio."
And so the night before we had heard all this noise going on because one of the Ministers was staying just I think Soniabad $[unclear] was staying just behind us so they must have shot him there, but I didn't connect the two. In fact, my mother-in-law woke up and said, "Oh, it's 15th of August. They must be celebrating Independence Day in India or something like that." And then I got these calls saying something very nasty, whatever it was, I don't remember so it must have been one of the people who had carried out the coup.
Anyway that was another scary incident because actually also Haseena's youngest son Russell, he was in the same class as my daughter. So when we read about it, we felt really bad. So we then, the next day, actually we had some relatives Raza Hazaq and her family, they were just living down the road, further up, so we just took our bags and went and stayed with them, rather than staying in our own house. And then we had to apply for permission to leave the country, and the President was then was Mushtaq and we didn't know quite how to do this, but then as always Professor Razaq was always there, because either Mushtaq had been a student of his or something like that.
So anyway, he took my application and went and saw him and said that you know, "No matter what your politics, this is something you have to do for me." So he gave his permission and we came on to the flight and luckily, Tariq Ali had come to see us off, which was really very sweet of him, I must say.
Tariq Ali from London?
No, Kamal's secretary.
OK, OK, yeah. Tariq Ali I met him.
You've probably met him. He used to be in Foreign Services, he is now retired. And so we got on to the plane, and then suddenly there was an announcement that the flight is being delayed. And I didn't know, I felt nervous and I felt that this must be something to do with us. And it was, because the air hostess came around and I said "Ki hocche?" $[bengali] and she said "Eta aapnar jonno delay kora hochhe" $[bengali].
She knew me from before. And so later on Taufiq told me, that you know whoever was there at the airport, which ever Major was there, he was looking through that list and he said, "Why are these people being allowed to go?" Although we had the permission and everything. So anyway then since Taufiq was a very resourceful person, he started ringing up people and one of the persons who responded was Usmani, General Usmani. And I must say, he was a very decent upright person, you know I mean even earlier, very British kind of person.
So he said, "Yes, why aren't they are being allowed to go?" So then he spoke to whoever, and then the flight left. But you know for that half an hour, one hour that we were there, it was pretty scary, what was going to happen. So then we stayed in Oxford from '75 to I think '81 or '82.
And then came back in -- it was Zia's time?
Yeah… Rehman died in '82?
Yeah. So Zia did not have any hostility to-?
No, he said -- I don't know whether Kamal had told you this -- but he sent his messengers to him in Oxford to join him and Kamal refused each time.
But this time was favorable for you and Professor to come?
Well Kamal had been here once before, for Usmani's election. You know when Usmani contested the thing. But then he left, he was getting threats or something so he left.
But Sheikh Haseena was also allowed to come by the next year.
Later. Yeah, we came earlier.
So how was the, I mean still looking still -- for you is not far -- but looking little back, how would you see the time of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and like, Ziaur Rahman if not Irshad you know in terms of the...
Well you know first of all, I think you have to divide Mujib's time into pre, post I mean, whatever you call it.
No, I mean post.
No, I mean post.
No, I mean in the sense of even those three years. I mean when we came back in '72, there was so much exuberance, so much enthusiasm "eta korbo", "ota korbo" $[bengali]. I mean I was not mixing with the official Awami Leaguers, I had my own life. Even these artisans, I was working with them and so there was a lot of energy and to think that we are going in the right, you know, I don't know how to put it.
But like even this village where we helped them to set up their house and so on, even though it was a terrible situation living under the open air, no tents and then they got tents and they got houses. But even then, they were on the move, on the go, so there was a lot of eagerness to do those things. And then slowly I began to, because I was meeting people outside, and you began to see the slogans on the wall, you know, and the Jashad split and things of that kind $[unclear]. I would come and tell Kamal, that look things are not going well, look what people are saying.
You know I mean I kept a copy of all the slogans people were shouting then, I am afraid I lost it. That was, I think, in fact I remember writing to Salma in Oxford and I wrote to her saying, "Come before the enthusiasm disappears". Because that was really very vibrant time, I think and I was going to university to visit Sir, and all the young students were very interested. And then I think, when was this, was Jasad split $[unclear] was in '73 I think. But so the first year was a bit like that.
I think the second year, people started, you could hear the grumbling about favoritism and nepotism and this that and the other. I don't know how much of it was there, but there was certainly a lot of criticism. And then in '74, you know when the famine took place, Anisuzzaman and I formed a team, and we went out to Komila and a couple of other, we collected a few things from here. And then there was this sort of bureaucracy-- I suppose this was a part of the planning process, that we were told that we can't go without permission and so on.
Luckily the person in charge was Mr. Khalid, the former IG of Police, who had become the Secretary of Relief. So he said, "Oh, you people are going, I'll give you permission" but why did people need permission to go? But maybe the times were different, I don't know. So Anis and I did that for a while, for a month or so, I think. And… it was interesting because the place we went to there was a Zamindar who was a Muslim Leaguer. And oh yeah, I think Bhutto had been visited just before that and typical of him, he left these large bags of lovely Basmati Rice and whatever rice, for the relief we had been given to from the Ministry was fine rice.
So we had taken that, and we found, we were distributing it to people taking cupfuls and giving it to people and the Zamidar is saying, "This is good rice, you give this to me, people will not understand. I will get the other rice." So we said, "No, no we can't do that. Give it to whoever is coming here."
So after...
So I was involved with that.
We started thinking in terms of an exhibition of crafts, which then led to Karika. And then I was very friendly, through Sir I had become very friendly with Zainab Dil the artist, he was also helping us do this. So I think I was meeting a very diverse group of people.
So after coming back in the early '80s, it was time for you to start like, what you wanted to be an activist, work for women. How would you see the changes from the Pakistan video to the your time in the '80s.
How were you thinking the women's cause, I mean, in terms of independence.
Well actually, in Pakistan's time, I was totally unaware of the women as a category as such, and I think what shook me up was 1971 and my contact with women, large number of the widows. I mean, you know, left with nothing, they were just all by themselves. And I suppose my experience of -- Sufia Kalam asked me to join the committee with of that home.
Sufia Kamal, you mean.
Yeah, you know, the British home that they had started, where they used to do the abortions and adoption and so on. And a friend of mine had come to adopt a child, so I took her to that home. And you know the scene of this mother -- she had been raped and her husband had been killed, he was a rickshawallah and she was standing there. I was told that she felt very suicidal when she was pregnant and didn't want the baby.
It was too late to end it, she wanted to commit suicide. Then she looked after the baby for two or three weeks when my friend came, and she was handing it to her and taking it back, and crying, you know I mean the images of that kind really exposed me much more than anything else had done. We were working there like Mallika Khan and so on. So I think that's what actually in the beginning, got me involved with women. And then in '75, I went to International Women's Conference.
I was invited there, mainly because of my work with the craftswomen. And again the reason that a lot of these women had come in the crafts is, because, some of them were family because it was a family occupation, but also otherwise because many women who needed to earn an income so they got into it because it was an easier way for them to do than anything else. So through that process, I think at one level, I think post '75 for instance, not post '75, I think post '71 or even after the Mexican conference, met with a lot of feminists from other countries and I think my own exposure to women here after '71 probably made me more conscious with...
It terms of institution, you were involved in creating, establishing a number of institutions including $[name unclear, 1.16] in the mid-'80s. Why did you feel that women needed more institutions? How, did you think that they performed, as you had expected in the '80s, even now?
Well actually when Salma and I were in Oxford, we were thinking eventually of coming back, we were not going to make a lifetime there.
And we were wondering, you know, what we would wanting to be doing. And I had been involved with women's employment and helping them organize, and so on - mainly arts and crafts sector, informal sector I would say -- and she had been teaching Law, but she said she is tired of teaching. She didn't wanted to do this formal teaching, but she liked to do work that would engage her more actively. And I said, you know, in my experience of women who are working, I'd found that their needs were not satisfied just by earning an income because they run into other problems - marital dispute, inheritance, whatever.
So how do you supplement one with the other? And so these were the kind of discussions we had, but when we came back in '82 or whenever, I went back to work at Karika for a couple of years and she, I don't think she went back to teaching then, she was doing -- oh, she joined the Institute of Law and International Affairs and we actually started a research together, that was published and what was it called, "No Better Options."
It was about garment workers, and at that point, we were also in a way, involved with the anti-Irshad movement and so we were meeting with Amir Islam and Justice Sobhan and various other people and we began to talk to them, what should we do? Because our discussions were that you know, OK this General will go, the Military rule will go, we will probably have an elected government. But what difference does it actually make to people? You know, the women we come across, their lives are burdened with these kinds of overpowering family situations and various other land disputes or whatever.
What is it that they need, in terms of enabling them to even recognize their rights, or struggle for their rights, so on. From that evolved this idea of, you know, how to engage in mediations, dispute resolution. And so actually, our first, the memorandum for the organization was drafted by Amir Islam, in which the focus was mainly on mediation, mediating disputes, but then as you see it evolved into something that bigger than that, because justice has to do with more than that.
So initially there was nine of us founder members: it was Salma, me, Amir Islam, Justice Sobhan - he was the first chair of the organization, Tarunsa Abdullah, who had been a social worker all her life, my sister Khurshid, she was also very involved in social work and Mr. Abid Brack [unclear] and there was IG Khalid who was, I think, the first IG of Police.
So the whole women's movement or women's cause was pioneered by the cohorts, along with you, a few people in the '80s.
Was there any particular ideological or intellectual stimulus coming from the liberal, of course, liberal ideas of women's emancipation? Or did you have any other -- I mean, I was interested in knowing the intellectual stimulus that you got for women's…
No, actually it didn't start with us.
I think that point if you see the first women's group that very active on the rights issue--
Post '71.
No, even pre, was the Mahila Parishad.
Sufia Kamal was there?
She was the president, yeah and if you see that organized -- Mahila Parishad, was an off shoot of the part of the Communist Party and most of its members were you know, Ayesha Khanum and Mallika Begum. They were all student activists who then formed the Women's Wing of the Communist party. But gradually it's acquired its own personality.
Was there any place of Begum Rukhiya in your thoughts?
In my thoughts personally?
Yeah, Begum Borkheya.
Yes, later I mean not early because I don't know much about her so then obviously. But then for instance, I mean, I think in my case thinking about this but also I think like in post '75, also because the International Women's Movement, many of us, like Raunaq Jahan was here, and she started with a group of women -- this Women for Women group for instance. She started it and I was there in the first couple of meeting, but I was never joined this group and they started with the idea of research on women's issues.
And so little groups started like that. And I think there is a flow to it, so it's not like everybody doing there own thing. There was a certain flow. So while the Mahila Parishad was the first, I remember going to their meeting and the first meeting, I think it was in 1969 or '70, when they were formed actually, in the Purwani Hotel and some of us though we weren't members we went there. And they were talking, but in those days -- actually, I have written a bit on this subject.
In those days, you know how it is with a nationalist movement. The women's issue is there but in the background. So whereas Mahila Parishad, you know first, rights for the Bengalis, Language Movement, all that women were involved in, but then the women's issue comes in by the side as it were. So you know, for instance most of the Mahila Parishad members were involved in the the local community like Wari Samilti $[spelling unsure, 1:24, 1020] Gandheriya Samiti, and all these samitis, where in particular, I think, the women like Sufia Kamal and what are the others names I forget, particularly some of the Hindu women, they were very active on the communal, anti-communal groups.
For instance when I first came here in '64, '65, I remember there was a riot in Rai Bazar, it was either a Hindu-Muslim riot or Bihari-Bengali, I forget, whichever. But the women were very active then, and I remember going in the procession with them and so on, and seeing, you know, communal peace… So I think it's evolved over the years, our notions of you know even the feminists and so on. And then some of the other. And then post '75, actually what happened was, because internationally, the women's issue came on to the screen and then the funding became available.
So then these other groups, NGO-ization started. Yeah that was done actually. I suppose that it was also necessary. Then there was also talk of development and women's role and, you know.
Different terrain. Well that was wonderful. Thank you very much.
Thank you.